SCOTLAND is leading the race to host the UK’s first space port, with a new report suggesting it could be operational by 2019.
All of the potential Scottish space sites are in step with a government checklist of base requirements - with their remote nature helping allay safety and noise pollution fears over bids south of the Border.
Spaceports have previously only been seen in films like Star Wars, but the government is keen to establish one in the UK to allow regular space tourism flights and to send satellites into orbit.
With firms like Space X and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic expressing an interest in launching flights from the UK as soon as 2018, the reality of space tourists and commercial rocket launches is tantalisingly close.
The Department of Transport published a list of criteria for any site bidding last week.
Key among them was a clear flight path north, over the sea, into a polar orbit.
The government also made it clear it preferred a coastal site with low population density.
The demands put the Scottish contenders, Campbeltown, Stornoway and Prestwick, ahead of competitors in England and Wales.
Newquay in Cornwall and Llanbedr airport in Wales are also being considered, but Tom Millar, director of the Campbeltown-based Discover Space UK bid, said he was ‘confident’ of a Scottish victory.
He said: “I’d be surprised if our bid doesn’t finish top of the league. The more detail we get of what the government wants, the more convinced I am that our bid is the best.
“The driver from our point of view is that we are suffering depopulation and unemployment. This could be a game-changer.”
Howie Firth of the Spaceport Scotland group added: “Economically, a spaceport is not a luxury - it’s a vital investment.
“It would be a tremendous prize to come to Scotland. It would attract industries, create jobs and it would be the most incredible inspiration. The potential is huge.”
The UK’s space industry is still relatively small, with firms looking to launch satellites having to wait for a slot on rockets launching from South America or Kazakhstan.
Mr Firth added: “The current situation is like having a shipbuilding industry thousands of miles from the sea.
“If instead of having to package up a satellite and send it miles away you could simply put it in a van and drive to a spaceport it would make a tremendous difference.”
A final list of technical specifications for the spaceport will be published next year before the official bidding process opens.